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Onondaga County Health Commissioner Pleads With Parents To Allow COVID Testing At School; Seeks Support For Strained Health Dept.

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Upstate.edu
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A Clarifi test kit, showing the swab and tube used to collect saliva.

Onondaga County’s health commissioner says they’re thinking about using incentives to overcome asymptomatic COVID-19 testing hesitancy at schools. The money would come from an $11 million state grant for school district testing that county lawmakers are likely to accept Tuesday. Dr. Indu Gupta says parental consent is needed for the voluntary program, and they’re falling short of their testing goal. She says hesitancy from misinformation on social media has been noted in our community.

"Parents are reluctant to do the testing because they feel if they are positive, their kid will be in isolation, which is the right thing to do. Also, to reduce any outbreaks within the classroom, within the school district. At the end of the day, it will reduce the impact in our community."

...because, she says, if there’s baseline testing, they can find asymptomatic people who might be spreading the disease. School districts of all sizes are reporting varying levels of COVID activity, which has led to cancelled or postponed games and events. Gupta says convincing parents to allow testing is a heavy lift, and suggests small incentives can go a long way to boosting participation. She wishes more parents would take COVID seriously as the Delta variant continues to make children sick.

"It's impacting kids significantly at this point. If adults are not being adults, not behaving like adults, not getting vaccinated, not protecting children...those who are under 12 years of age can't even get the vaccine. As a mother, as a doctor, as a health commissioner, there's no explanation for that. Why won't you protect the kids who look up to you?"

Gupta says no child has died as a result of COVID in Onondaga County, and she hopes to keep it that way.

In addition to the testing money, county lawmakers will also consider measures aimed at supporting a strained health department. Gupta says the county needs to offer more competitive salaries to fully staff the medical examiner’s office with four pathologists.

"The problem I'm facing as a department head, if we put too much burden on our two pathologists who are our staff, they are going run away. There are other places that will pay them more, and they won't have that burden."

She’s also requesting a salary increase for the position of medical director, whom Gupta calls her right hand in the department. She says the current director is planning to retire soon, and the job needs to be attractive when it comes time to recruit a new doctor in an extremely competitive medical field. Lawmakers will also vote to accept a $5.8 million state grant to fund a two-year fellowship program aimed at filling other gaps in the health department.